Six Buildings Designed by Celebrated Japanese Architect Kengo Kuma that You Should See
Kengo Kuma is the architect known for designing the New National Stadium, the stage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A unique feature of his work is Japanese-styled architecture using wooden materials. Read on for six buildings you should visit throughout Japan that were designed by Kengo Kuma.
About Kengo Kuma
With the Tokyo Olympics almost upon us, let’s talk about Kengo Kuma, the architect who designed the New National Stadium. One of the unique characteristics of buildings designed by Kuma is the Japanese-style design that makes use of traditional Japanese materials such as timber.
Kuma’s works are creative yet blend into the surrounding landscape. They are modern yet make use of traditional methods. They are comfortable spaces full of warmth due to the extensive use of timber.
1. New National Stadium (Tokyo)
The Olympic Games, held once every four years, are anxiously awaited by many people, but this stadium will not be open to the public after the conclusion of the Tokyo 2020 Games until the completion of restoration works. But if you want to see the exterior design, anyone can still get a look from outside of the temporary fencing.
If you're lucky enough to have a ticket to any of the Games happening in the New National Stadium, be sure to pay attention to the roof. Overhead from the spectator seats is a large overhanging roof of braided Japanese timber which makes it look like a giant shrine or temple. While enjoying the Games, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of Japanese wooden buildings.
2. Dazaifu Tenmangu Omotesando Starbucks (Fukuoka)
In Fukuoka there is a famous Shinto shrine called Dazaifu Tenmangu, dedicated to the deity of academics, scholarship and learning. Every year during exam season, it’s bustling with shrine-goers. Along the “omotesando” (the road leading to a shrine or temple) of Dazaifu Tenmangu, there is an extremely stylish Starbucks.
This building connects a modern cafe with the traditional and sacred Shinto landmark, through the wooden framework construction from the entryway to the cafe’s interior.
3. Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center (Tokyo)
Kengo Kuma, who aims for harmony with nature, has designed many of his buildings in such a way that they are as low to the ground as possible. The Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center is a rare instance of a tall construction by Kengo Kuma. This is Taito-ku’s tourist information center, located in front of Asakusa’s Kaminarimon gate that attracts a lot of international tourists. It is a very convenient facility for travelers as four foreign languages are spoken, free Wi-Fi and device charging is available and so on. Definitely come here when you go to Asakusa. On the 8th floor is an observation terrace where you can see the Tokyo Sky Tree.
From the exterior it looks like 7 traditional wooden homes stacked on top of each other. Inside, you will find an open-feeling space with high ceilings due to storing equipment between the roof and floor above.
4. Sunny Hills Minami Aoyama Store (Tokyo)
Sunny Hills is a Taiwanese pineapple cake shop in Minami Aoyama. The building itself has an eye-catching design utilizing traditional wooden latticework construction known as “jigoku-gumi*.” As you enter the shop, warm light shines through as though it were sunlight filtering through the trees. You can smell the pleasant scent of Japanese cypress which will have you subconsciously taking a deep breath.
There isn't a cafe connected to the shop but on the second floor you can expect to be treated in the spirit of Japanese hospitality.
*A method composed of wooden joins absent of the use of nails.
5. TOYAMA KIRARI (Toyama)
TOYAMA KIRARI is a building complex that houses the Toyama Glass Art Museum and a library in Toyama Prefecture in the Hokuriku region. This is an open building filled with bright natural light shining in due to the vast wooden atrium.
The Glass Art Museum here also has an installation by Dale Chihuly, a leading figure in modern glass art. The museum has developed a good reputation through word of mouth by people who visit. You can come here to appreciate art in both the exhibitions and the museum building itself.
6. Kumo no Ue no Hotel (Kochi)
Forests make up 91% of the land area of the nature-filled mountain town of Yusuhara-cho, in Takaoka, Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. For this building that was constructed with the hope of blending in with the Yusuhara forest, local Yusuhara cedar wood has been used amply, creating a hotel which allows you to feel the softness of wood. Directly beside the hotel is the Kumo no Ue no Gallery (by the way “kumo no ue” literally means “above the clouds” in Japanese). This gallery is another one of Kuma’s architectural works.
So, what do you think? Contrary to the eye-catching exterior, the charm of Kengo Kuma's architecture is the feeling of warmth from the wood and filtering of light as if through real trees once you go inside. These are just some of his many architectural works throughout the prefectures of Japan. Take a trip to Japan centered around art and architecture and visit some of them!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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